Stage 1 of the Overwatch League is over but some improvements are already badly needed.
Stage 1 of the Overwatch League wrapped up this past weekend and saw the London Spitfire become the champions after a gruelling set of matches. For all the highs that the esports league has presented, there were a number of lows. And for the number of lows, there was an equal – if not greater number – of flaws present all throughout. With Stage 2 set to commence on February 22nd, let’s take a look at five things that Blizzard needs to fix going forward.
Due to the number of teams involved, the Round Robin-style of earning points and so on, you’d think there wouldn’t be an issue like Dallas Fuel playing one match to close out January 27th and then playing the very first match on January 28th, barely getting any rest or practice in the process. It also happened with Seoul Dynasty – it played one match against London Spitfire to close out February 2nd and then had the second match on February 3rd against Houston Outlaws. You could argue that the team still had a decent break between matches. That’s all well and good, for Seoul at least. Also, Blizzard might be interested in holding certain matches on certain days for better ratings and attendance.
However, what possible justification was there to have the final qualifying matches and the Stage 1 Title Matches on the same day? On that day, eventual winner London Spitfire played a total of 14 matches. The team literally walked in and started playing to kick off the day and ended up playing at as the day was closing. New York Excelsior went on to play 10 matches while Houston Outlaws would play 9 matches. Sure, Stage 2 will have the play-offs on a separate day but who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to have them on the same day for Stage 1? Was it “Let’s just see how it works, it could be fine” approach? The fact that it’s not going to happen again (or so we hope) doesn’t change the fact that this was a colossal misstep on Blizzard’s part.
I really believe Semmler and Hexagrams aka Auguste Massonnat and Robert Kirkbride are doing their best to make match commentary exciting. Semmler is picking up the game rather well despite not having any experience with Overwatch casting (his background is mostly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive). And like most people who got into watching competitive Overwatch, Andrew “ZP” Rush and Hexagrams were just perfect for, no matter what the match was, so I’ve liked Hex for a while.
However, in OWL, Semmler and Hex simply don’t work. It could be that Hex has always been a little too over the top with his colour commentary and had ZP’s concise play-by-play analysis to properly balance him out. Semmler lacks that deep knowledge though and as such, it can be just agonizing to listen to. I don’t know how exciting you can make your commentary but talking about peppers and their crunching sounds or going “snikkity snick” doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.
That being said, other casting pairs like Mitch “Uber” Leslie and Matthew “Mr. X” Morello did a fine job. Soe Gschwind does fairly well for analysis and stage interviews; it would certainly be interesting to see her try and call matches just to bring a different flavour of commentary on-board.
When you watch World Wrestling Entertainment, you know what’s the outright dumbest thing to see? Superstars being buried. “Buried” in this sense means that a wrestler, male or female, is made to look like a joke by the commentators. That way, when they win, it’s not because of their athletic skill but because of dumb luck. The opponent doesn’t look good either – he got beat by a loser! How stupid is he or she?
WWE is scripted. The Overwatch League is not as far as we know.
These matches hinge on individual ability, game sense and rigorous training. So why in the world are the commentators and analysts burying the teams that aren’t in the top 5? Why is LA Gladiators and Dallas Fuel touted as the teams no one wants to lose against? Why is the defining trait of the Shanghai Dragons that they’re the “0-9” team of OWL?
Make no mistake – many players in the OWL are the very best in the whole world. So why not make it more about the better players and what mighty combatants they are for coming out on top? You want to tell a story about these guys who can’t win matches and throw in a little snark for spice? Go for it but don’t be surprised if no one ends up caring when they do win. Because it won’t be their skill but the incompetence of the enemy team that’s ultimately highlighted. In fact, many of the analysts did this for Boston Uprising, pegging them as not being in the same league as other teams. Mind you, this was after they beat London Spitfire, Dallas Fuel and Los Angeles Valiant.
I could go on and on with the horrible observing and camera cuts that occurred during the weeks of OWL. A sneaky Tracer play on a Zenyatta that suddenly cuts to someone else before cutting back to see that the kill is already done. A five kill spree missed. Observing certain heroes where something interesting is happening elsewhere. Cutting away from certain heroes when something interesting is about to happen. Going to a wide shot when Ultimates are popped.
One analyst went on to say that observing was the most thankless job in the world. While I will say that the negatives are definitely being highlighted more than the positives, it’s not like there aren’t examples of great all-round spectating available in Overwatch esports. Go look at the observers for the former Overwatch APEX which succeeded in framing incidents like a Graviton Surge comboed with a Dragonstrike that was concise and helped you understand everything that was going on.
Oh and that whole deal about observing being the most thankless job and how people shouldn’t be so mean about OWL’s presentation? Commissioner Nate Nanzer would confirm an internal Observer Summit between Stage 1 and 2, which could range from hiring a new producer for the observing to coaching said producer on what observing is and how to do his job. There may or may not be improvements but the OWL has seen enough “story-telling”. Show us some actual esports going forward.
Yes, I know that Stage 2 will have a new set of maps. The major issue isn’t that Blizzard doesn’t want to try different maps for different stages. Rather it’s the reliance on a particular pool of maps throughout an entire stage (and with one stage lasting for five weeks, things get monotonous quick). There are several justifications for wanting to use the same set of maps. It helps teams get familiar with the battleground and tells the story of coming up with strategies and counter-strategies.
As ideal as the latter sounds, it really just results in the viewer seeing the same comps on offense and defense but across different teams. Exceptions exist but the number of times I’ve seen two teams run an offensive and defensive Pharah on the first two points of Eichenwalde is a lot higher than when they didn’t. Widowmaker is pretty much a staple on Ilios’ Ruins map. I know that these heroes are the most effective on these maps and that this likely won’t change soon. At the very least if the maps change, there are other possible outcomes for comps and objective play. It’s probably just the “Plat Chat” in me talking though.
Regardless, even if Blizzard can’t circulate different maps in and out during one stage, it needs to remove maps like Horizon Lunar Colony from the pool. Stop trying to make Horizon happen. It’s not going to happen.